The longest river in Florida, the St. Johns River, clocks in at 310 miles long, an impressive presence in a state that is only 500 miles long from its most distant points. Still, the St. Johns River is nothing compared to the longest river in the United States (hint: it’s not the Mississippi!). The Missouri River spans 2,341 miles across seven states. That’s more than seven St’ Johns Rivers long!
A unique feature of the St. Johns River is that it flows north. Or so we thought – actually, more than 245 known rivers flow north, a feature resulting more from topography and gravity than the magnetic forces dictating what is actually “due south” or “due north.” Rivers will always flow from higher altitudes to lower altitudes and always in the direction of least resistance, regardless of compass direction. Nonetheless, the St. Johns River is one of them!
This river begins in Indian River County as a marsh appropriately called St. Johns Marsh. The St. Johns River is slow-flowing (sometimes called a “lazy river” or rather “liquid chameleon”), and starts with barely any drop in elevation – the marsh actually ebbs and flows with the influence of nearby tides. The St. Johns River hits its first bit of stride one county north of its origin as it gains some traction and widens to a navigable waterway – but just as quickly the river dips back to its narrowest section of near impassible marshland, all within the upper basin – the first of three basins along the St. Johns River. One of the most famous lakes in the upper basin is Lake Hell n’ Blazes, named as a tribute of the frustrated curses of early navigators muck, weeds, and “floating islands” of the St. Johns marshes. Most of the upper basin wetlands are fed by rainwater and therefore water levels fluctuate with the seasons, making navigation unpredictable and airboats the most reliable form of transportation.
The middle basin encompasses the Central Florida counties of Orange, Lake, Volusia, and Seminole counties. The river creates two of the largest lakes of this basin, Lake Harney (9 square miles) and Lake Monroe (15 square miles). The town of Sanford lines the south side of the lake with its downtown area, offering public dock access to commuters by boat. This middle basin, also passing by Central Florida towns Debary and Deltona, has some unique features such as a significant tributary, the Wekiva River, the largest black bear population in Florida, and a thriving population of non-native rhesus macaque monkeys. Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida, and the Ocklawaha River, St. Johns largest tributary, are also found in the middle basin.
North of the Ocklawaha River to the Atlantic Ocean comprises the lower basin, where the St. Johns River grows exponentially wider. In this basin, the river hits its widest point at up to 3 miles across, an opportune feature used for shipping. Some of the oldest modern cities in Florida are in this basin section of the St. Johns, and the final 35 miles runs straight through historic Jacksonville, finally feeding fresh water out into the salty ocean.
Areas of the St. Johns River have long been populated, Paleo-Indians being the first peoples to arrive on the Floridian peninsula about 12,000 years ago when the ocean was 350 feet lower and the land mass was twice its current size. It wasn’t until 5000 years ago when climate change allowed archaic humans to inhabit the area around what we know today as the St. Johns River. The transition into settled groups and centuries of agricultural cultivation led to population increases and formations into what would eventually be known as the Timucua, the indigenous peoples that the European settlers would encounter.
Today, the St. Johns River is in constant flux from rapid overdevelopment at the beginning of the 20th century and excessive pollution. Restoration efforts are underway in the area to return the river to its natural, healthy state. Such efforts led to the St. Johns River to be labeled as an American Heritage River by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998.
List of lakes along the St. Johns River:
Blue Cypress Lake (origin)
Lake Hell ‘n Blazes (also Helen Blazes or Lake Helen)
Lake Washington (home to a colony of Atlantic stingrays among other marine species)
Puzzle Lake (where boat routes can and do change seasonally)
Lake Jesup (no natural flow from the river to this lake)
Lake Monroe (Green Springs Park, a green hued sulfur spring, on north shore)
Lake George (Blue Spring State Park, winter home for manatees)
Doctors Lake (actually an inlet, not a true lake)
As of Friday Oct 23, 2015, 67 properties along the St. Johns River are available for the homeowner that wants the authentic Floridian lifestyle – flush with native wildlife and beautiful scenery. Navigable by boat, airboat, kayak, paddleboard, and more from private and public docks and parks, the St. Johns River gives you the opportunity to live the riverfront life you’ve always dreamed of.
Contact the Mike Rance Team today to take the next step toward finding your Central Florida dream home along the majestic and historic St. Johns River!